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Baltimore mayor fires housing commissioner amid pandemic; Braverman said termination ‘a complete surprise'

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has fired the city housing commissioner in the midst of a global pandemic that many warn could lead to an eviction crisis. Michael Braverman, whose last day was Friday, is shown in 2019 in East Baltimore.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has fired the city housing commissioner in the midst of a global pandemic that many warn could lead to an eviction crisis. Michael Braverman, whose last day was Friday, is shown in 2019 in East Baltimore. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has fired the city housing commissioner in the midst of a pandemic that many warn could lead to an eviction crisis.

In a statement Friday evening, Michael Braverman said his termination from the Department of Housing and Community Development “came as a complete surprise.”

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“I have deep gratitude for the incredible team at DHCD, and all of our partners — community leaders, nonprofits and foundations, and public and private sector colleagues,” he wrote. “Together we have poured our hearts and souls into working towards a better Baltimore. We made some great strides, and there is so much more work to be done.”

Asked why he was fired, Braverman said he was told only that “they want to go in a different direction.” Young will be leaving office this winter.

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The mayor’s spokesman James Bentley said only that Braverman’s last day was Friday.

“We do not discuss personnel matters,” he said.

Braverman spent more than three decades working in Baltimore, working his way up to commissioner. Braverman’s annual salary, according to a 2019 city database, was about $200,000.

His departure represents additional upheaval at the top levels of Young’s administration. Since he was defeated in the June Democratic primary, Young’s chief spokesman and deputy chief of staff for operations have resigned. At the start of the pandemic, there were departures in leadership in the mayor’s offices of homeless services and emergency management.

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Braverman recently worked with the mayor’s office to launch a $13 million rental assistance program intended to assist tenants in paying past-due rent as the pandemic puts many at risk of eviction.

Antonia Fasanelli, director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project, said she was on a conference call with Braverman Friday morning to discuss how to prevent families from falling into homelessness.

When she heard he’d been fired, she said, her heart sank.

“Baltimore, like every community across the country, is facing an impending crisis of mass homelessness,” Fasanelli said. “To lose the housing commissioner, who was the primary person in Baltimore responding to that potential, is really concerning.”

Bentley said Braverman’s deputy, Alice Kennedy, has taken over his role on an acting basis.

The news of Braverman’s departure appeared to catch many by surprise.

“I’m not sure what’s going on, but I wish him the best,” said Councilman John Bullock, chair of the housing committee. “He’s been well-respected for quite some time.”

Former Mayor Catherine Pugh appointed Braverman to the job in 2017, when she split the public housing authority and the housing and community development department into two agencies. Braverman was charged with attracting investors, developers and home buyers to the city, as well as enforcing city building codes.

The department has struggled for years to make progress on eliminating neighborhood blight and driving down the number of vacant homes in the city.

“I hope a national search is conducted for his replacement,” said Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, vice chair of the housing committee, “because the housing department certainly needs a world-class leader who can turn the department around and make it what Baltimore City residents need it to be.”

Bentley also confirmed that, as of Friday, the mayor’s director of cable and communication was no longer employed by the city. Tonya Miller Hall managed Charm TV, the city’s television channel.

It was not clear why Hall was no longer in her role. Bentley said again that he cannot discuss personnel matters; Hall could not be reached for comment.

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